The IMRA season starts tomorrow, weather permitting, at Howth, so let’s have a look under the hood of the “IMRA calendar 2013″. For IMRA runners, the 2013 calendar may have been more hotly awaited than Christmas, so what did the committee have in store this year?
Calendar facts and figures
This years calendar currently appears trimmed down from 66 in 2012 to 56 this year not counting trials and youth races but we expect that by the time the final Munster figures, the Mountain Rescue Benefit run and the end-of-season race fixture are confirmed you’ll be looking at roughly the same number of races. All of the popular leagues are returning with the same number of fixtures in each: Winter League (5), Spring League (3), Leinster League (13), Munster Wednesday League, Trail League (3), Navigational Challenge (3) as well as the championships (Connacht (2), Irish (5), Leinster (5) and Munster (6)). Status of the Munster League is unknown but we expect it to return as dates are normally forthcoming slightly later in the year than the main calendar.
The “rogue race” Combaun Wood to Templehill, down in Limerick, also returns as an early season fixture. We have not tried it but going by the description it’s well worth the trip!
Long distance championship returns
Even with the lower race number an “old championship” returns in the form of the Long Distance Championship. This is dear to my heart as we first ran the experiment during my stint on the Committee in 2008 to 2009. The championship never truly caught on and was not run in 2012.This year’s committee have done well to resurrect it “with intent” – the new incarnation is the longest and hardest yet with the Wicklow Way Ultra (51km), Wicklow Glacial Lakes (39km) and the Dublin Peaks (36km). It could be a turning point for the championship but the series still has some identity problems simply because the races are so different in nature – one is long and mainly road and trail requiring no navigation, one is mainly off-road and requires very good navigation and the last (Dublin Peaks) is a mixed bag in both terrain and navigational requirements.
What else is new?
The major changes in overview seem to be these:
- In the Winter League Annacurra replaces Annagh Hill (which in turn moves to the Leinster Champs) with the classics at Howth, Ticknock, Crone and Trooperstown remaining
- The Wicklow Glacial Lakes, primarily started as a relay, will now encourage more “soloists” as part of the Long Distance Championship
- The Leinster League shuffles the deck in terms of the order of races and replaces Three Rock Summer with Tibradden
- The Leinster Championship does away with Mt. Leinster in favour of another shorter “easy to navigate race (Annagh Hill). The epic Aughavannagh course, first run in 1981, returns (read my 2007 preview of it here and race report here) meaning that along with Circuit of Avonbeg and Fraughen Rock Glen runners will venture onto the Lugnacoille massif thrice
- For the Connacht Championship Croagh Patrick makes its triumphant return replacing Nephin. “The Reek” remains stripped of it’s Irish Championship status, having been put (perhaps rightly) in the shade of Connacht’s highest peak Mweelrea
Last years Spring League experiment survives with the same three races (Hellfire Spring, Little Sliabh Bhui and Mullaghmeen). Once a drain on the organisation’s stretched resources, local race organisers have now made this series sustainable for IMRA to maintain.
We reserve a section in this review to talk about the Leinster League, the undisputed crowd-pleasers among the IMRA race series, but we’ll keep it short this year as very little is knew from 2012. Ticknock Summer moves to the side in favour of it’s slightly tougher cousin Tibradden. The tight “bottle-neck” races of Bray and Scalp get proceedings moving again early on followed by the maze of forest trails of Carrick Mountain. Powerscourt Uphill is this time early in the calendar
Your truly has a well-declared dislike of the Scalp (I believe it’s too small a track for the Leinster League numbers and would be better as a Trail League candidate) and replacing beautiful Trooperstown with grim Kippure ranks the selection down in my eyes, but others will disagree. On the plus side, Trooperstown is a fragile mountain, outside the protection of the National Park, and can do with a rest every once in a while.
An interesting twist is moving Brockagh back towards the end of the league (late June) as opposed to May. Knowing June this could mean another mud-fest at the mountain rather than super-fast conditions and sweltering heat on the course in 2008 and 2010. The Sugarbowl route closes the League once again maintaining a well-loved tradition.
We’ll leave it to Jason Kehoe, who knows how to battle it out at the front of the tough Irish Championship races to talk about the key races in a separate article and some key advice on the races (coming up).
Wicklow Way Relay – now for solo runners
During Joe Lalor’s long and succesful stewardship of the Wicklow Way Relay, the design of the route was partly put in place to discourage solo runners from adding further burden or duty of care onto the already stretched volunteers in the race. This “ban” will be lifted this year, meaning a few solo attempts on the way may happen. With the communal spirit of the IMRA community this should add rather than detract from the event as long as the solo runners have sufficient experience and approach the challenge with proper care.
The 2013 calendar does not offer quite the wave of renewal brought in through 2012 but it takes most of what was good about 2012 and shuffles the deck enough to keep things interesting. The Leinster Championship remains a strange size simply because the Irish Championship contenders do not prioritise it and the masses do not embrace it (because it takes mountain experience to master it). This is unlikely to change in 2013 as even the bigger population of England means that similar championships such as the “Lakeland Classics” (of which the IC is in some respect “a miniature version”) have seen falling numbers.
For the future, perhaps championship status could be awarded to shorter series of races, or even once-off races, to attract the best runners with these races also being part of a longer race series in which the overall winner would compete for a Trophy, not a national or regional championship, named after a montain runner or other contributor to Irish Mountain running of note. It is a discussion that is bound to recur in the future and one which may well attract as polarised opinions as the debates about what terrains constitute a proper mountain race. If the wisdom of the masses constitute the “right answer”, the marked mixed terrain and trail events of the Leinster League and Trail Leagues will also be the most popular in 2013 but these will never satisfy those who want to test both physical and technical ability as well as mountaineering skills.
Rating: Not the great innovative upheaval of 2012 but another well-balanced fixture list. Thumbs up for the Long Distance Championship experiment.